Century marks

BROWNING OF AMERICA: Hispanics are soon to become “America’s largest minority”–an oxymoron, according to Richard Rodriguez (Brown: The Last Discovery of America, Viking). They are “destined to outnumber blacks.” The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by 2040 one in three Americans will be Hispanic. Rodriguez, however, is cynical about some of the attention this fact is given: A “you can’t stop them from coming” attitude quickly translates into an “ad-agency target audience, a market share.”

Rodriguez is also ambivalent about Hispanics having “minority” status. It trivializes Latino contributions to American culture, and when it is used to indicate victim status it is an insult to African-Americans whose status is “one born of a distinct and terrible history of exclusion–the sin of slavery, later decades of every conceivable humiliation visited upon a people.” Rodriguez thinks attempts to make English the official language of the U.S. are absurd, ignoring how fluid language is and that from the beginning Americans spoke a different English from the British, tinged with Indian words like succotash. Besides, America has become bilingual (“Punch 1 for English, 2 for Spanish”). The second language is that of cheap labor everywhere from fishing villages in Alaska to Chinese restaurants in Atlanta.

GOOD BUSINESS: Given all the bad news about corporate greed and sleaze, it’s good to hear about companies that have a conscience. Shaklee Corporation, a nutritional supplement company, replaced school boilers in Portland, Oregon, “as part of its commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the environment.” A yogurt company, Stonyfield Farms, gives 10 percent of its profits to “efforts that help protect and restore the environment.” And Whole Foods, a large health food retail chain, “not only pays its employees to do volunteer work but donates 5 percent of its net profits to charity.” Michael Stevenson of Boston College’s Center for Corporate Good Citizenship thinks that “doing good” is good business. A good case is Maggie’s Clean Clothes, an Ann Arbor marketer of organic cotton shirts and socks. Rather than depending upon Central American sweatshops, Maggie’s helped fund and found a woman’s cooperative in Nicaragua which built its own factory and obtained its own loan for sewing equipment. Maggie’s president, Bena Berda, says that she now not only has a reliable source of clothing for her company, but the women producers “own their own company and their future looks bright” (Well Journal, August 1).

MOTHER OF ALL SINS: Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, recently testified before Congress that the culprit behind all the corporate scandals is “infectious greed.” Phyllis Tickle, longtime religion editor of Publishers Weekly, says Greenspan has religious authorities on his side. She has collected sayings from the major religions that seem to agree that greed is the mother of all sin. The Tao Teh Ching, for instance, says, “There is no greater calamity than indulging in greed.” Of course, we know what Jesus had to say about wealth and the desire for it, and the apostle Paul said that avarice is the root of all evil. Early Christians made an acrostic out of Paul’s saying which was a reflection on Roman corruption: ROMA, from radix omnium malorum avaritia (the root of all evils is avarice). We might adapt this to our own USA, says Tickle: United in the Sin of Avarice (Beliefnet, July 24).

HOME OF THE FREE: The U.S. is still enormously esteemed around the world, says Tony Judt, and what epitomizes the nation is not MTV or McDonalds, or Enron and WorldCom, or even our military power and economic might. Rather, it is “a unique and irreplaceable myth: that the United States really does stand for a better world and is still the best hope of all who seek it.” The power of this ideal, however, is very fragile. “The real threat to America, which the Bush administration has not even begun to comprehend, is that in the face of American neglect and indifference this myth will fade,” and many people around the world will turn against the U.S. and its ideals of a free society and free trade (New York Review of Books, August 15).

FAT OPTIONS: Next time you’re asked to super-size a fast-food order, consider this: Upgrading from a three-ounce Minibon to a Classic Cinnabon costs only 24 percent more, yet adds 123 percent more calories and includes nearly three-fourths of the daily recommendation for saturated fat. McDonald’s actually charges less for an Extra Value Meal Quarter Pounder with Cheese (with large french fries and Coke) than for the same sandwich bought separately with small fries and Coke, but the cheaper option has 490 more calories. The National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity advises inquiring about nutritional content of food, ordering smaller portions or sharing with a friend and asking for changes in menu items to reduce calories–like “Hold the mayonnaise” (From Wallet to Waistline: The Hidden Costs of Super Sizing, reported in EthicsDaily.com, July 16).

TAKE, EAT, RUN: Speaking of fast food, the Brentwood Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, has become the first church to open a McDonald’s restaurant on its premises. Brentwood Baptist is a megachurch with over 7,000 members. McDonalds offers familiar food that people can grab on their way to or from church meetings. James L. Evans notes the irony: Whereas the Christian faith was once known for experiencing community through the breaking of bread, “our work commitments and leisure style almost force us to value the convenience of a quick meal over the slow pace of communal dining” (Sightings, August 2).

FINAL WORDS: The last words of some famous persons were duds, according to Christopher Orlet of the Vocabula Review. Even poets stumbled. Lord Byron said: “Now I shall go to sleep. Good night.” Then there was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s last statement, “Open the second shutter so that more light may come in.” His comment was so mundane that some biographers edited it down to the more mysterious “More light!” Some of the best lines come from lesser-known folk–like actor Edmund Gwenn, who said: “Dying is easy. Comedy is difficult.” Or take the “gallows humor” of James French as he went to the electric chair: “How about this for a headline in tomorrow’s paper: French Fries!” Orlet thinks Jesus’ “It is finished” is unpretentious but holds that Karl Marx said it best: “Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough!” Most of us don’t know which of our words will be our last ones which is a thought to give us pause.

DART ON THE MARK: John Dart, the CHRISTIAN CENTURY’s news editor, was awarded second prize in the American Academy of Religions 2002 Awards for Best In-Depth Reporting on Religion for journals with circulation under 100,000. The judges gave Dart kudos for “looking beyond the obvious in selecting his subject.” But that’s obvious.

COPYRIGHT 2002 The Christian Century Foundation

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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